This Week I Loved…

A bratwurst lunch in downtown LA.
wurstkucheThis home-cooked meal with bacon-wrapped pork.
homemademealStreet art filling in an otherwise missing concrete brick.
streetart This RauschenbergDSCN3334 …and this Frank Lloyd Wright furniture at the Huntington.DSCN3349 The mountain view from my desk and my new job with an interior design firm in Pasadena. Woo hoo!viewfromwork My funny cat sleeping.DSCN3485And this. (I heart Stephen Colbert.)

http://www.hulu.com/watch/519451

The Real Abu Dhabi

Admittedly, I did not know much about ABu Dhabi before we visited there a couple weeks ago. I knew it was a city with a lot of money, oil money, and I think I thought it was like a less developed Dubai. (Not that I knew a whole lot about Dubai either, for that matter.) But what I found was a city much more diverse. There are a huge number of ex-pats and immigrants living and working there. A majority of the immigrants come from India and Pakistan. And while the class structure there keeps an extremely wide divide between these immigrants and the native Emirates, there is an epic amount of construction happening at all times as the area grows, as well as tons of service jobs in any of the numerous upscale resorts and restaurants in the area. Not unlike the immigrant communities in the US, many of the UAE’s immigrants are sending money home to their families, working tirelessly toward a better future for their children.

Visiting a faraway country when you know someone who lives there offers a huge advantage in that you are able to see how people really live. To be fair, that also means mostly you see how your friend lives, and in this case we had the most exposure to the lives of ex-pats like them. But we were able to experience a much wider view of Abu Dhabi, and learn a bit about the history of Abu Dhabi and its social and political structure. We also were able to simply enjoy the refreshing beauty that it has to offer while we were on vacation. This is just a taste of Abu Dhabi, meant to give you a broad sense of my impression of the place.

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people lounging under the shade of public umbrellas at Saadiyat Beach

Abu Dhabi is essentially an island in the Persian Gulf. Interestingly, the beautiful beaches you see all around were man-made using sand shipped in from Japan.

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Saadiyat Beach

The water is beautiful, bright blue, almost tropical looking, and the beaches are so perfect it feels surreal.

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a view of one skyline from the Corniche

The buildings there make you feel like you might be in a sci-fi thriller. The city is very new, only around 45 years old, so each new building uses the very latest in design and technology, and almost seems to try to out-do its predecessors.

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a walk on the Corniche

The city seems to make a real effort to create spaces for people to gather, walk, ride bicycles, etc. Since we went at the beginning of summer it was already getting very hot during the days, but in the evenings around sunset you could see all kinds of people taking their evening jog or pushing baby carriages for a stroll as the air began to cool down. Corniche is the word the locals use to describe this boardwalk-like walkway, which stretches pretty far through the city. It’s also the name of this beach area. It seemed like any public space we visited while we were there had workers on standby to clean up any little piece of trash that might fall, so every park and walkway was spotless.

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the fruit market in Abu Dhabi

Away from the resorts and sky rises, we visited the markets where plenty of locals go for fresh local fruits and vegetables. There were dozens of stands cascading with tempting produce. So many sellers to chose from, most with the same items for sale as the next guy, so it was tough to chose who to buy from. They try persistently to sell you on their own so you don’t wander off to someone else’s.

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sellers at the fruit market in Abu Dhabi

We went toward the end of the day, so it wasn’t very crowded. People mostly seemed to be waiting for the next customer to pop by.

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piles of dates covered in plastic to ward off flies

In the same industrial port complex you could find dozens of date salesmen as well. This particular one is a favorite of our friends we were visiting.

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We like to call this a sheik date.

These were the best of the dates, housed indoors. Posted above them was a poster featuring Sheik Zayed and his two sons. Sheik Zayed was the much loved leader of Abu Dhabi (the capital of the Emirates) who is responsible for the arrangement regarding oil between the British and the Emirates that lead to the widespread wealth that is so apparent in the city today. No longer living, his older son is the current leader of Abu Dhabi. Photos of Sheik Zayed seem to pepper the city, sometimes in the most unexpected places.

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the fish market in Abu Dhabi

My husband, the master chef of our house, was in heaven in the fish market. You’ve never seen such beautiful fresh fish.

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colorful fresh fish

The fish in the market were so colorful, and almost seemed to still be swimming.

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taking a rest after a long day

Once you pick out the fish you want to take home, you can have it cleaned out at a station like this, although this guy seemed to be done for the day.

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delicious prawns, fresh from ocean to oven

Then, you can take that fish to any of the cooks in the market if you’d like. You could walk out of the market eating one of the freshest meals you’ve ever had.

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a fisherman takes a rest on his boat after a long day

Just outside of the market, there are probably 100 of these boats docked, ready to go out fishing the next morning.

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rusty old fishing boats out of service

And in the parking lot next to the fish market you will find these boats, clearly not fit for use, just resting sleepily. We saw lots of feral kittens living around these, probably waiting for the next little piece of fish to drop.

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the infinite pool at the Shangri-La Resort

In contrast, we got a taste of resort living in Abu Dhabi as well. We had a morning of swimming and lounging at the pool, where the service was incredibly luxurious. The service people there make sure you have plenty of water and walk around with cold towels, fruit to munch on, and even clean your sunglasses for you if you’d like.

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A view of the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

The Shangri-La also had this incredible view of the Grand Mosque. It is such an enormous structure, dominating the skyline. After seeing it like this I couldn’t wait to go there and see it up close.  (Come back Thursday for more on this spectacular place.)

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sunset at the St. Regis

Later that same night we went to the St. Regis for some outdoor yoga at sunset, and the view from my mat was magical.

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getting into the first pose of the evening

Our friend we were visiting was the yoga instructor for the class, and I was so pleased to finally be able to take one of her classes! We were incredibly relaxed at the end.

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a Muslim couple in traditional dress walk along the beach after dark

I loved catching this little glimpse into another way of life, actually not all that different from my own. Plus the skyline across the water was so bright. Abu Dhabi at night could almost be a completely different city than Abu Dhabi during the day.

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one of many stray cats by the beach

Even though I mentioned earlier that the public parks were all spotless, that doesn’t make them immune to cats. We encountered tons of stray cats, surprisingly affectionate but infected with fleas. They all seem to be pretty well fed though.

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a view of Emirates Palace from the 58th floor next door

One of the most opulent places we saw while we were there was Emirates Palace. It’s mainly a hotel and houses a variety of wonderful upscale restaurants and cafes. And yes, it is as huge as it looks. We barely scratched the surface when we went there for dinner on our last night in Abu Dhabi.

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top left: the most expensive scotch in the world

Emirates Palace is home to a scotch and cigar bar that sells the most expensive scotch in the world, a 57 year old Macallan that sells for over $4,000 per shot. No, we did not try it, but wouldn’t that be a story to tell!

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Gold To Go

And yes, the rumors are true, you can indeed buy gold from a vending machine there.

Are you intrigued? What would you most like to see in Abu Dhabi?

This Week I Loved…

Finding my cat asleep with her tongue hanging out.

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This photo of both my cats judging me.

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An incredible meal with some pescatarian friends.

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A demo on how to oxidize paint.

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This colorful breakfast.

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Preparing for an epic vacation with these wonderful friends.

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Packing my bag.

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And this… There is so much to see in Turkey!!!

10 Ways to Prepare for an Epic Vacation

It’s almost time! I’ve hinted here, here, and here that the hubby and I have been preparing to embark on quite the adventure in the Middle East. We’ll be spending a week in the UAE touring Abu Dhabi and Dubai, followed by a week in Turkey exploring Istanbul and Cappadocia. This trip has been months and months in the making, and for the longest time we felt like it was forever away. Then in the last 2 weeks I’ve felt like we’ve been scrambling to get ready. There is so much to do before leaving home half a world away, and it feels like that even more now that we’re homeowners! It is almost summer, a busy time for jet-setting and exploring, so in case any of you are also planning to be away from home for more then just a couple days, here’s a checklist of sorts to help you prepare for your own adventure.

Secure a Pet / House Sitter

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We are super lucky in this department. A dear friend will be in LA for the summer and needs a place to stay at the very same time we will be away. I can’t tell you the relief it is to know someone will be watching out for our kitties and our house, especially since fire season seems to have hit Southern California earlier than usual this year! But I know we won’t always find such a perfect scenario. If you’re looking for a house sitter, try asking a friend with a roommate they might need a break from to stay in your house. If you have pets, sometimes just a pet sitter checking in on the little guys once or twice a day is enough to double for someone checking in on the house too. If there’s a fire or flood, they’ll surely notice. Plus, it will be good for your pets to have a little love every now and then while you’re away. Try asking your veterinarian’s office if they have a pet sitter they can recommend. They won’t recommend someone who other people have complained about, or who they don’t know themselves, so if you’re friends don’t have one already this is a great place to start.

Make an Emergency Contact List

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This can be the list you hope no one needs to use while you’re gone. Include numbers like a friend in your home town who can help your house sitter or out-of-town family in an emergency situation. And of course include a family member’s phone number as well. We always try to include a next door neighbor, our primary veterinarian, our preferred emergency animal care facility, and of course an emergency contact phone number in our vacation destination. You may also want to include your flight itinerary for whoever will be watching your house or taking you to/from the airport.

Make a Copy of Your Passport

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This was actually a recommendation from a friend. I’d never done this before now. but it makes so much sense if you’re travelling internationally. Make two photocopies of your passport, driver license, and health insurance card. Leave one at home with your house sitter or with a friend, and take the other copy with you on your travels but keep it in a separate place than your real ID’s. This way if your purse gets stolen or you leave your passport somewhere by accident, your extra copies will help you when talking with your embassy or other authorities overseas.

Pre-Pay Your Bills

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Most banks offer online bill pay, and most of the time you can set up your bills to be paid at a later date. Think about setting them up to go out right after your next automatic deposit from work. Even though you could also pay them online from your vacation spot, wouldn’t it be better to really get away from those kind of life responsibilities for a little bit? Paying ahead means you don’t have to fit chores in among your sight-seeing schedule.

Come Up With a Cash or Credit Card Plan

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There are lots of different opinions about whether to carry cash, traveler’s checks, or credit cards while traveling. I learned that all of our credit cards have a 3% fee for international transactions (which is pretty infuriating, to say the least) so it will cost us a lot of extra money for any charges we make over seas. We chose to carry cash, but I try to really budget out exactly what we will need so as to not bring anything extra. We also each carry a portion of it so that if one of us loses ours the other still has theirs, minimizing the risk of loss. Some things will unavoidably need to be charged to a credit card and others are pre-paid for, so those things will also help in keeping your cash budget as low as possible. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but with some smart planning and consideration you should be able to find the right balance for your own trip

Prepare Your House, Plants, and Pets

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Here’s where the home ownership part of our current equation comes into play. We do our own gardening and yard maintenance. And because of the timing of our flights, we had to do all our usual yard maintenance knowing that there will be close to 4 weeks before we can get to it again. That means thinking ahead about what happens over the course of 4 week in the average yard. I did a marathon hedge and rose trimming session the other day, and the hubby cut the lawn extra short, but I know we’ll have to do it all over again once we get back and recover from the jet lag. Another helpful prep tip, house or apartment, is to remember to unplug unnecessary appliances and shut down your computer if no one will be in the house using them. Preset your air conditioner or heater to save energy when no one is home. And finally, don’t forget to feed your pets, cut their claws back (especially if you have cats that like to try to destroy your sofa…), and make sure their collars are secure in case they try to escape while you’re gone.

Buy Your Travel Supplies

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Your shopping list will of course vary depending on where you’re going. Think about getting travel sized toiletries or reusable travel-sized bottles, especially if you are planning to carry your bag on the plane. Make sure you have the appropriate clothes for the climate you’re going to, sunblock if you need it, hiking and camping gear if those activities are on your itinerary, and supportive, comfortable shoes for all the walking you will surely do whether in a museum, forest, city, countryside, or ocean side. Don’t forget sunblock and sun glasses if you plan to be outside a lot. And if you’ll be attempting to speak an unfamiliar language or going to a place you’ve never been before, pick up a couple pocket sized guides to keep with you as you navigate through you’re new surroundings.

Prepare Your Camera

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Make sure your SD card is big enough for all the photos you plan to take, that you have an extra battery for those long outtings when you may not have time during the day to recharge, and don’t forget to pack your charger. (If you’re traveling internationally, make sure you have the proper power adapter handy.)

And of course, Pack Your Bags and Print Your Plane Ticket! (And don’t forget to pack a book for the plane ride… I will be bringing three, since we will be on planes for a grand total of 38 hours over the course of the next 2 weeks. Ahh!)

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What else do you do to prepare for your summer vacations?